Prince Heirs Petition to Remove Comerica Bank as Estate’s Representative, Claiming Vault Was Moved Without Permission

Prince Heirs Petition to Remove Comerica
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UPDATED: Three of Prince’s heirs have petitioned to remove Comerica Bank as personal representative to the estate, according to court documents dated Friday that were made public Monday. The heirs, Sharon Nelson, Norrine Nelson and John Nelson, made the petition for a number of reasons including what they claim is an improper decision to move the late artist’s much-vaunted “vault” of unreleased recordings to California; for improperly defending the $31 million recorded-music deal the estate’s previous special music advisers had negotiated with Universal Music Group that was rescinded after contractual inconsistencies were revealed; and essentially for being insufficiently familiar with Prince’s music and business to be a suitable representative.

“It is clear there are major problems with how the Prince Estate is being handled now,” a statement from Sharon and Norrine Nelson provided to Variety reads. “The Heirs want respect and the fans want music, both of which are missing. The Court will have to make the ruling. No bank or individual alone should control Prince’s creative legacy. Comerica and its advisor  has inadequate experience for this Estate.” The “missing” music refers to the multiple Prince albums and the unreleased material in the “vault” that remain out of circulation owing to the rescission of the Universal Music deal, which ostensibly covered recordings not owned by Warner Bros. Records (although complications with Warner Bros. ultimately caused the deal to be rescinded).

In a letter to Judge Kevin Eide, who is overseeing the case, Comerica “respectfully requests that the Court enter an order authorizing the Personal Representative to continue administering the Estate, under the terms set forth in all previous orders entered by the Court”; Eide granted that request. A representative for the estate provided Variety with the following statement: “Comerica is disappointed that certain heirs of the Estate of Prince Rogers Nelson have chosen to file an inaccurate and inflammatory petition seeking Comerica’s removal as Personal Representative of the estate.  Comerica has worked diligently to bring order to the estate in a manner that honors and preserves Prince’s legacy and will allow his many fans to enjoy his music for years to come.  Comerica stands behind its team and their administration of the estate and will respond appropriately to the Court.  Comerica  looks forward to the continued successful administration of the Prince Estate.”

Prince died on April 21, 2016 of an accidental drug overdose; he apparently left no will. His estate has been valued between $100 million and $300 million, before taxes.

The three heirs in question are all Prince’s half-siblings who were officially named among his six legal heirs in May, and all of whom are represented by L. Londell McMillan, one of two former special music advisers to the estate. McMillan and his former partner Charles Koppelman negotiated several deals for the estate before their temporary term ended in February, including the Universal recorded-music deal.=

Comerica was appointed to oversee Prince’s estate in January, replacing temporary administrator Bremer Bank; Spotify executive and former Lady Gaga manager Troy Carter was named entertainment adviser in April, replacing McMillan and Koppelman, although McMillan continues to represent three of the heirs.

The petition, which cites a Minnesota statute listing reasons for cause for removal, says Comerica “has intentionally misrepresented material facts regarding its competence and intentions leading to the appointment, it has mismanaged the Estate, wasted and failed to protect valuable Estate assets, allowed irreconcilable conflicts of interest, disregarded the Court’s Transition Order as well as the March 22, 2017 Order Regarding Application of Existing Orders and Protocols to The Personal Representative in failing to disclose and communicate material facts to the Heirs, and generally failed to act in the best interests of the Estate.”

The heirs say they “have lost their trust in Comerica and see no other course of action but to remove Comerica immediately to safeguard the best interests of the Estate.”

First among the heirs’ objections was Comerica’s decision to begin moving Prince’s “vault” of unreleased recordings from Paisley Park to Iron Mountain storage facilities in California. The heirs claim that Comerica “failed to communicate its decisions to move the materials — announcing they were considering such a move at an heirs meeting, but never asking for permission or input from Petitioners.” They claim the move exposed the recordings to “theft, loss, damage, leaks, and the risk that the contents will not be properly inventoried, evaluated or copied at Iron Mountain.”

In a statement provided to Variety on Monday, Comerica disputed that account: “In an effort to ensure the preservation of Prince’s audio and visual content, Comerica selected the premier entertainment storage and archive company Iron Mountain Entertainment Services. On four separate occasions, Comerica discussed the process with the heirs and any suggestion otherwise is not accurate.”

The three heirs also object to Comerica’s decision to “refuse to permit” McMillan “to attend Heir meetings and [for refusing] to negotiate reasonable terms of a non-disclosure agreement related to McMillan. The exclusion of those who understood Prince’s business, as well as certain heirs, is causing economic waste and irreparable harm to the Estate … potentially costing the Estate millions of dollars. Failure to properly negotiate each deal has substantial consequences.” It also claims that Comerica has “spent millions of dollars and authorized excessive amounts on consulting and legal fees, notably to Troy Carter, with little to no benefit to the Estate.”

Finally, the heirs claim that Comerica “breached its duty to the Estate and to the beneficiaries by not promptly and aggressively defending” the $31 million recorded-music deal with Universal that was rescinded in July, thus leaving “most of Prince’s sound recording music remains without a worldwide distribution partner … This loss of income even after the rescission is a waste and Prince fans worldwide as well as the Estate suffers as a result.” The petition also essentially says that Comerica favored Warner Bros. — which claimed it held rights to music the estate had improperly granted to Universal, leading to the rescission of the deal — in a number of ways, including “not leveraging the potential of other business dealings with Warner Bros. Records in order to negotiate a favorable resolution that would have allowed the Universal contract to go forward.”

Representatives for Warner Music Group and Universal Music Group either declined comment or did not immediately respond to Variety’s request for comment.